There is something attractive about the idea of reincarnation. It seems to suggest that if you make a mistake in this life, or don’t make much of an effort, there is always another life to have another go. It doesn’t seem that too much is required of us. We don’t have to commit ourselves to becoming holy or going beyond others in service, because everyone gets another chance at life. It seems a happy way of avoiding the hard questions about life and death, and God and sin, since whatever we do we will always come back for another lifetime of experience.
But in fact reincarnation has nothing in common with Christianity and is a deeply inhuman philosophy when we consider it carefully. Our Orthodox Christianity teaches us that even before we were conceived and born, God has us in his mind as a unique creation. There is no one else who can replace any one of us. We are deliberately created by God with love and in love, and it is the intention of God that we live in a unique and personal replacement with him in this life and in the life of eternity. We are irreplaceable according to our Orthodox understanding and teaching. We are so precious as a unique creation that God desires us to enter a relationship with him that will last for ever.
The problem with reincarnation is that it teaches that we have no value at all as a person. Whatever we do or experience in this life, whatever relationships we have in love with others, all of this is entirely and completely lost, and we are reincarnated as a new person, or perhaps only as an animal or an insect. There is nothing about our life and experience as a human person which is preserved and so whatever we do in this life has no meaning or value at all.
Those religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, which teach reincarnation, do so as a means of understanding the different conditions of people, and of other creatures. It seems reasonable to say that if you have a terrible life then it is because you were very bad in your previous life. Such religions teach us that we should not be sympathetic to those who suffer because they deserve it and are experiencing what they deserve. While others who are wealthy and healthy are only enjoying the reward of their own previous and forgotten existence.
But Christianity teaches us that even though we all deserve to be judged by God for our own actions in this life, yet God pours out his blessings on every person he has made because he is goodness itself. We feel moved with compassion for others because this represents and reflects the very nature of God himself who is merciful and kind towards even those who reject him. When Jesus was asked why a man was suffering with blindness he did not say that it was because he had been sinful in a previous life unknown to himself, nor did he even blame the man or his parents. But he insisted that the brokenness of the world was an opportunity for the glory of God to be manifested.
The idea of reincarnation blames people for the situation they experience, and so makes them responsible. It is hard to feel sympathy for those who are being punished in this life for what they did in the previous one. But the reason why reincarnation happens also removes any value from ordinary human experience. It teaches that the reason why we come back as a new person is not because we are destined to experience an unending life in such a way. Rather it is because we have not yet learned to completely let go of every attachment, and these are holding us back from release from the cycle of reincarnation.
Reincarnation is meant to end. According to Hinduism and Buddhism it is bad thing that someone is reincarnated as a new person, because it means that they still want to exist as a person and still are attached to things and to people. This means that in these religions the idea of holiness is not connected with service to God and others, but to detachment from others, and in not caring. When we care we are attached and must come back.
What does reincarnation teach about our destiny? It is that we cease to exist as a person at all. We are absorbed into the impersonal force behind the world. Christianity teaches that our personhood is so important that God intends it to last for ever, so that we were created from the thought of us in the mind of God in eternity before anything existed, so that we would exist and live forever in a personal relationship with a personal God. This could not be more different.
Reincarnation is not an easy way of hoping that we could live forever without any responsibility. On the contrary, not only does our personhood have no value, but is lost each time we are reincarnated, even the escape from the process of reincarnation means only the annihilation of our personhood so that we cease to exist as a person at all. This is why it is an inhuman idea. It requires us to blame others for their circumstances and to feel no sympathy for them if we want to save ourselves from the cycle of reincarnation and enter the void of non-being.
Christianity is challenging to our attitudes and actions. It requires us to make choices now and in this life that demand effort of us. But we are invited to enter into a unique relationship with a personal God who has uniquely created us to know him and be known by him for eternity. It is only Christianity which is truly a human philosophy and insists on the absolute value of every person now and in the life to come, in which our unique personhood is preserved by the God who made us for this relationship of persons.